Ohio votes to guarantee abortion rights in latest post-Roe referendum as US elections offer 2024 preview

Democrats and abortion rights advocates notched a string of electoral victories on Tuesday, including in conservative Ohio and Kentucky, an early signal that reproductive rights remain a potent issue for Democrats ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

In Ohio, a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, Edison Research projected.

The outcome extended an unbeaten streak for abortion access advocates since the US Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn its 1972 Roe. v Wade ruling and eliminate a nationwide right to end pregnancies.

In Virginia, Democrats appeared likely to hold their slim majority in the state Senate, enabling them to continue blocking Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s plan to pursue a 15-week abortion limit. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a statement that the party had held the Senate, with votes still being tallied.

Meanwhile, Democratic Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear won a second four-year term on Tuesday, Edison Research projected, defying the conservative lean of a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.

Abortion rights supporters celebrate winning the referendum on the so-called Issue 1, a measure to enshrine a right to abortion in Ohio’s Constitution. Photo: AFP

Beshear, one of only a handful of Democratic governors in Republican states, defeated state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would have been the state’s first black chief executive.

Despite his party affiliation, Beshear has maintained high approval ratings in Kentucky, buoyed by his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. He also ran on protecting abortion rights, though he is powerless to overturn the state’s near-total ban.

The contests were among several across the US on Tuesday offering critical clues about where the electorate stands ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The votes came less than 10 weeks before the Iowa presidential nominating contest kicks off the 2024 White House campaign in earnest.

In a statement, Democratic President Joe Biden praised the Ohio result, saying, “Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms – and democracy won.”

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Abortion battlegrounds

Ohio was the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court decision.

Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.

They have doubled down on that strategy. The outcome in Ohio will boost efforts already under way to put similar ballot measures before voters in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida.

Anti-abortion forces campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.

With the 2024 election looming, America’s political watchers have their eyes on Ohio, where activists on both sides of the reproductive rights issue have waged a fierce, multimillion-dollar campaign.


Protests across US after Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights

Protests across US after Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights

Tuesday’s vote comes 17 months after the Supreme Court struck down the national right to abortion, paving the way for some states to completely outlaw the practice, even in cases of rape or incest.

The reversal of the landmark Roe v Wade decision triggered an Ohio state law that would ban all abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the womb – usually around six weeks of gestation, before many people even know they are pregnant.

A “yes” vote victory on Ohio’s referendum, known as Issue 1, enshrines the right for the state’s residents to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including on abortion.

US Supreme Court preserves access to abortion pill for now

It does, however, allow abortions to be prohibited after “fetal viability” – when a fetus is able to survive on its own outside the womb – unless a doctor believes a pregnant patient’s life or health is in danger.

President Joe Biden, who has made abortion rights a keystone issue of his presidency, said Ohioans “voted to protect their fundamental freedoms.”

“Ohioans and voters across the country rejected attempts by MAGA Republican elected officials to impose extreme abortion bans that put the health and lives of women in jeopardy,” Biden said in a statement, referring to his likely 2024 opponent Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Biden also called efforts to curb reproductive rights “extreme and dangerous.”

Over the past year multiple states including California, Kansas and Kentucky voted to preserve abortion rights or voted down efforts to restrict them.

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